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Meet Our Mystery Illustrator: Joseph Alessio

It has been a tradition at CreativeMornings to work with an artist in our community to create an illustration for the monthly theme. January is all about Mystery.

The illustration is everywhere — in 160+ chapters’ social media channels and at the events.

While the artwork speaks for itself, we wanted to get to know the artist on a personal level and introduce them to the creative community. We’re delighted to introduce you to…

Meet Joseph Alessio

joseph Joseph Alessio is a typographic illustrator and animator, making words mean more for clients including Target, Hallmark, and Disney. Working with a variety of media and an obsessive love for letterforms, he turns words into images and images into words, exploring the intersection of language and visuals. He also plays (unofficially) 7 instruments, and was accidentally responsible for the death of an ill-fated bonsai tree.


How does mystery play a part in your life? How do you use it in your life and work?

Well, I’ve been told I come across as mysterious a few times, but I think that’s just a more flattering way of saying I’m vague and odd, haha. Mystery is, to me, one of the more important elements in creativity. The word “mystery” make me think of the darker side, maybe, but that sense of the unexpected, whether it’s a simple or a complex solution, playful or serious, is what drives all sorts of creativity—music, humor, art and design, you name it. It surprises you, beckons to your sense of exploration. The creative industry hinges on that—a lot of craft goes into creating as well, but the spark, that bit of mystery or incongruity or curiosity, is usually what we know as creativity. I think it shows up in daily life as well, an underlying curiosity that makes you look into anything that strikes you as odd or interesting or mysterious. It’s constant; I’m always looking up odd things on Wikipedia or whatnot, things that I somehow came across and now I have to learn more about. One of the hallmarks of a creative mind, I think, is that you’re always seeking out mystery, both to enjoy the sense of mystery itself and also to figure out what goes behind it.


Describe the moment when you realized that multimedia type-based work was your medium.

I wouldn’t say there was a specific eureka moment; my creative process is usually a long and arduous path from inkling to execution haha. I’d toyed with using tactile media for a while, looking back at my experiments I think the first tactile lettering piece I shared was in early 2013. I don’t like to pigeonhole myself into a specific medium or style, which is probably a poor career decision, but it keeps me free to be creative, hah. I’ve done more dimensional type work as I’ve progressed creatively, as I think it has boundless potential conceptually and in real-world applications, and it’s more fun than tweaking beziers for hours at a time! I still do a fair bit of branding work, vectorized lettering and wordmarks, general design etc., but the image-driven tactile lettering work is the most fun, especially when I can work animation into the piece, or do it on a large scale. There are quite a few people who do the multimedia or tactile type these days, but a lot of them aren’t from a typographic-driven background, and as a result the styling may be excellent but the quality of letterforms is shaky. I like to think I bring a knowledge and study of traditional typography and lettering to the new media, rather than a fun idea but lacking in execution. Whether making letterforms out of objects, painting the letterforms across surfaces and objects, doing dimensional installations, whatever medium or style—I just love the textures you can capture, the combination of image and language, and the endless opportunity for exploration!


Your work has incredible depth and beauty to it. Describe your process for creating these gorgeous images that involve so many little pieces. For example, the Shit Happens piece has three of the same wrenches. Was that intentional?

One word: tedium! Putting together well-crafted letterforms, especially when they need to function as a unit with other letterforms, can be painstaking. A lot of components, a lot of shifting things around and switching out components to find the one that gives the right spacing, the right curve, the right texture. There’s also often plenty of post-production work done in Photoshop, cleaning up aberrations and sometimes shifting things a little to get everything perfect. For the “Shit Happens” piece, I used a lot of the same materials repeatedly—I’m a very resourceful, DIY person, and when I’m working on a personal project, my concept usually outpaces my out-of-pocket budget, so I reuse materials often. For the “Tools” pieces I was very limited in studio space and was using a box and a half of borrowed tools for the material, so I did it one or two glyphs at a time and pieced it all together in Photoshop, which throws a wrench into the process—hence the recurring wrenches (sorry not sorry). A lot of work but when the final piece comes out nicely, despite the lo-fi, DIY processes behind it, it’s a great feeling!


What inspires you?

Nearly everything! I’m a sensory sponge. I love taking note of my surroundings—people-watching, colors, architecture, street fashion, everything. Nature brings out my inner child—earlier this year, I was driving with my girlfriend along the California coast for the first time, going through Big Sur and some of those gorgeous areas, and I was giddy; around every turn for miles I’d be like “look at that, it’s incredible!” until she had to tell me that I didn’t have to continuously exclaim about it, haha. It felt like something out of a fantasy landscape, though. I can get similarly giddy at art museums. Literature, poetry, wordplay—after all, most of what I do is working with language, just visually instead of verbally. One of my biggest inspirations is music, though. I have a pretty diverse palate and music carries so much emotion and color and texture. I have an electric and acoustic guitar on either side of my desk that I fiddle with throughout the day, and occasionally I pull out my viola as well. It’s important to have multiple creative outlets, so you don’t get burnt out on work-related creativity and then you’re left without an avenue to recover that creativity. I browse Dribbble, Pinterest, Instagram etc. to see who else is doing cool work, but I like to get most of my inspiration from other places, just to reduce the likelihood that I put out regurgitated work.


What new mediums or styles are you currently intrigued about or looking to tap into?

I’m really hoping to do more large-scale work this year—murals, dimensional installations, etc. I did a 10'x7.5’ installation near the end of 2016 that was really fun, combining some typography made of fabric, to give it that dimension and tactility, with some fun hand-lettering, over a textured background I created with some tape and brush technique. I hope to do some installations or murals at stores, offices, live installations at events, things like that; combining a public art or interactive aspect where possible. So, if you’re out there and want a mural or an installation, for your office, storefront, live typographic artwork for an event, or a large-scale piece for an ad campaign—call me up! OK, end shameless plug.


If you could open a door and go anywhere, where would you go? Why?

Would I be able to come back, or is it one-way only? Haha. I think I’d love to visit Europe—maybe a door into Barcelona, use that as a springboard to tour the continent. That, or Japan; Japan, Spain and Italy have long been bucket-list visits for me—the cultures, architecture and natural beauty. For as much as I love exploring new and beautiful environments, I haven’t made it out of North America. One of these days, when the mythical extra time and money shows up, I’ll have to travel around and get some new inspiration. In the meantime, where do I get one of these teleporting doors?

If you could carry one book around for the rest of your life, what would you carry? Why?

Ooh, that’s a tough one. Most of what I read is dense stuff, good for cultural literacy but not really indispensable. What with having other sources of inspiration, I think I’d have to say a sketchbook, since I know that’s definitely indispensable. Cheesy answer maybe, but I think that’s my only option!

Find more of Joseph’s work on his website, Instagram, and Twitter.

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